Charles II was born in London in 1630. Under his grandfather, King James I, and his father, King Charles I, England had seen a growing amount of religious discontent between the people and the church. This led to the Pilgrims and Puritans leaving for the New World in 1620 and 1631 respectively. Along with religious issues, there were also problems between Charles I and Parliament. These issues finally became so severe that the English Civil War broke out in 1642. Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces battled against the King. When the King’s forces became overwhelmed, he sent his son Charles II to mainland Europe. Parliament executed King Charles I in 1649. Eventually Cromwell named himself Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1653 replacing Parliament’s Commonwealth government.
After Cromwell’s death in 1658, Parliament was reassembled. Parliament allowed Charles II to return to England in the Declaration of Breda in 1660. In the Declaration, Charles II promised to be a more lenient and tolerant ruler. He would not institute harsh policies for the Anglican Church, and he would not exile past enemies or confiscate their wealth. After the Declaration of Breda, Parliament proclaimed Charles II King of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
During the early years of his reign, Charles II dealt regularly with Dr. John Clarke. Clarke petitioned the King for a Rhode Island Charter. Finally, on July 8th, 1663, King Charles II granted Clarke a Royal Charter for Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. This was a profound document which granted Rhode Island self-government, religious freedom, and separation of church and state.
Charles’ experiences dealing with the Civil War, living in Europe and his father’s execution deeply affected his decisions and led him to question the idea of a monarch’s divine right. From a young age, the scientific revolution inspired Charles. He even had his own laboratory in his palace. He was constantly experimenting. The “livelie experiment” of Rhode Island, as the King called it in his charter, was one of his own experiments. It was a test to see whether a government run by the people, separate from religious affiliation, could survive.
King Charles II would go on to see England through many troubling times. He dealt with issues ranging from deadly diseases to the great fire of London. These events did not tarnish his legacy. He provided stability for England while reinvigorating tradition and welcoming new thought.
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Last updated: October 4, 2020
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